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Garden Tip

Keywords: Farmers' markets, Fruit

When summer arrives we know the fruit harvest is upon us. To find out where to go for "U-Pick" fruit and vegetables go online to the Puget Sound Area Farm and Crop Finder

Date: 2007-02-20
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Dates: A Global History by Nawal Nasrallah, 2011

Reviewed by: Rebecca Alexander on 2013-11-27

bookDates: A Global Historyis another title in the Edible series from Reaktion Books. An unusual aspect of the fruit (technically a berry) of the date palm tree is that it may be harvested at three different stages of ripeness--the ultrasweet dates one usually finds for sale in groceries are at the final stage, when they have sun-dried on the tree and the skin has begun to wrinkle and darken. Dates have been used as a food staple for centuries. Once called 'bread of the desert' and 'cake for the poor,' dates are still considered of vital importance in combating world hunger.

The date palm's botanical name (Phoenix dactylifera) derives from the tree's origins in Phoenicia (now Lebanon, Syria, and Israel), while the species name might refer back to the Semitic roots of the word for palm (dekel in Hebrew, diqla in Aramaic, etc.) or could refer to the finger-like (dactylos) shapes of clusters of fruit, or more: it's shrouded in mystery and confusion, as with so many names. You will also learn of a connection to the firebird or phoenix of myth and legend, which built a nest of cassia twigs and frankincense in the top of a date palm.

Other aspects of the date palm:
  • Once a full crown of leaves has developed, the trunk does not widen with age; there are no annual growth rings if one cuts a cross-section. Leaves which die off protect the trunk with their bases that remain attached. The tree's roots are fibrous, and secondary roots grow out of the bottom of the trunk. Both a male and female tree are needed to produce fruit. Trees must be hand-pollinated in spring (this has been common knowledge since the days of Mesopotamian agriculture!).
  • Even in the days of Pliny the Elder, there were numerous varieties of dates. The ones American consumers will probably recognize are medjool and deglet noor, but there are nightingale's eggs (beidh il-bilbil), khalasa (quintessence), and even an Obama date named for our president.
  • Although we mainly think of date palms for their edible uses, the hollowed trunks were made into aqueduct pipes for irrigation, and were used in building (the first mosque in Medina, built in about 630 C.E., was reportedly made of palm trunks, thatched with palm leaves, with prayer mats of woven leaves).
  • Indio in Southern California is the date capital of the U.S., and holds an annual date festival.

The book ends with several tempting recipes (sweet ones such as a 13th-century recipe for date syrup, and a personal favorite: a filled cookie called ma'moul, as well as savory uses).

Like the other books in this series, this title includes footnotes, bibliography, and index.

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Bob Flowerdew's Complete Fruit Book by Bob Flowerdew, 2009

Reviewed by: Tracy Mehlin on 2009-05-05

Bob Flowerdew's Complete Fruit Book is worth reading for the recipes and color pictures, even if you don't grow fruit. But if you do, you will find details on history, care and maintenance of the fruit garden instructive and you may be inspired to grow some of the more exotic varieties he describes. Flowerdew writes about normal fruits and nuts from apples to walnuts and everything in between, including unusual fruits like sapodillas and Cornelian cherries.

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The Book of Pears by Joan Morgan, 2015

Reviewed by: Brian Thompson on 2016-10-01

The Book of Pears cover

“The Book of Pears” is primarily a meticulous history book. Author Joan Morgan traces the human pursuit and usage of the pear from the empires of Persia, Greece, and Rome to the culinary heights of industrial Europe, especially in Italy, France, England, and Belgium. This British author does not ignore North America, as from the late 19th century on the story of the pear becomes global in scope.

Will this book help you with growing pears? Somewhat, with a brief cultivation section, but better help is found in the extensive directory of varieties, as the choices you need to make will influence your cultural decisions. Do you prefer early fruits which often don’t hold so well? Or good keepers that fruit late? Will these pears be used for eating fresh, canning, for cooking, or for making perry (the pear equivalent of cider)?

If you have a tree of unknown variety, another section on pear Identification may help. Presented in a chart, pear varieties are classified by season and by shape, including pyriform, the traditional pear silhouette, although pears come in many shapes. Further identifiers include color (everything from near white to deep red, including flushes of a deeper color), size, and the amount of russeting or spotting.

As any fruit shopper knows, there are pears and then there are Asian pears. The latter is given some consideration in this book. Each type probably developed separately, one in modern day Iran and eastern Turkey, the other in the Yangtze Valley, from two different wild species. There is evidence of hybridization between the two forms as early as the fifth century CE, but this possibly occurred much earlier.

Throughout the book are 40 stunning plates showing varieties of pears, including the fruit, both unripe on the tree and ripe and sliced for eating, along with the fresh leaves and flowers of spring. These works by Elisabeth Dowle are worthy of a folio book on their own, as they would benefit from presentation in a larger size.

This is an excellent book, I only wish it had been printed in a bigger format, partly for the beauty of the plates, and also to make the minutiae of detail, especially in the directory, more readable.

Excerpted from the Fall 2016 Arboretum Bulletin.

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August 01 2017 12:36:01